OSHA strengthens workplace guidelines against COVID-19

The Labor Department, in issuing stronger worker-safety guidelines, called on employers to conduct a hazard analysis and implement measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus on the job. The recommendations include the use of face masks and reconfiguring work spaces so workers are at least 6 feet apart.

“Wearing a face covering is complementary to and not a replacement for physical distancing,” said the guidance document released on Friday. “Limit the number of people in one place at any given time” through telework, staggered work times, or rearranging work sites. “This may require modifying the workspace or slowing production lines.”

OSHA said it would update the guidelines as warranted. Worker advocates complained the Trump administration valued production over coronavirus safety. “The recommendations in OSHA’s updated guidance will help us defeat the virus, strengthen our economy, and bring an end to the staggering human and economic toll that the coronavirus has taken on our nation,” said Labor Department senior counselor?M. Patricia Smith.

The new guidelines recommend that employers protect workers from retaliation if they raise coronavirus concerns and adopt policies that don’t punish workers for staying home while ill. “Ensure that absence policies are nonpunitive. Policies that encourage workers to come to work sick or when they have been exposed to COVID-19 are disfavored,” said the guidance document.

At least 368 workers at meatpacking plants, food-processing plants or farms have died of COVID-19 and at least 85,587 have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to data compiled by?FERN?as of Friday at midday.

The new guidelines are?available here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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